African players have become a key influence in numerous important clashes, evidently in their different leagues across the world.
Nevertheless, some outstanding African footballers will take the forestage this month when the final round of FIFA World Cup qualification sees five nations book their ticket to Qatar.
EKO HOT BLOG has compiled lists of the top 10 African finest tipped to take the centre-stage in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
Ten teams remain in contention for the 2022 event, with five two-legged ties scheduled to take place on March 26 and 30.
Algeria, Cameroon, DR Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia are all that remains from a difficult qualifying campaign, and their respective stars will do all they can to ensure they survive the final phase.
1. Riyad Mahrez (Algeria)
Algeria endured a Cup of Nations campaign to forget in Cameroon.
The 2019 champions entered the tournament fresh from their Arab Cup victory last December but instead left the bottom of their group with only a point for their efforts.
Riyad Mahrez captained his nation through the calamity but has since vowed to “make the people proud again” when the Greens face, ironically, Cameroon.
It’s a full circle-of-sorts for the Algerians, and their Manchester City star will make sure he does everything in his power to avoid another disappointment.
2. Vincent Aboubakar (Cameroon)
From little-known to must-see, Vincent Aboubakar burst onto the scene at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Previously remembered for his six-year stay at Porto, the 30-year-old experienced a second wind of incredible proportions in Cameroon; scoring eight goals in seven games to take home the golden boot.
While Aboubakar’s efforts earned the host nation third place in the tournament, he now has the chance to help pave their path back to the World Cup
Cameroon failed to qualify for the 2018 edition, and their 2022 hopes will be decided against Algeria.
3. Victor Osimhen (Nigeria)
Nigeria’s Cup of Nations campaign faltered at the first hurdle of the knockout rounds in what was a disappointing display from a star-studded side.
What they didn’t have back then, however, was Victor Osimhen; one of African football’s brightest talents.
The 23-year-old was unable to attend the continental tournament due to a facial injury but will make his long-awaited international return when the Super Eagles take on Ghana.
Osimhen has produced 10 goals and six assists in 19 games for his country and will form quite the frontline alongside Kelechi Iheanacho and Emmanuel Dennis.
4. Sadio Mane (Senegal)
Fresh from his heroics in Cameroon, Sadio Mane is looking to continue the form that earned him AFCON Player of the Tournament.
The 29-year-old produced three goals and two assists in seven games and scored the winning penalty as Senegal claimed Africa’s coveted crown for the very first time.
It was a month of magic from the Liverpool star, and now, he’ll have to conjure up something special one last time when his team tackle Egypt in a mouth-watering rematch.
With World Cup qualification on the line, the stakes are at an all-time high between the two nations, and the price of defeat is one neither will want to pay.
5. Chancel Mbemba (DR Congo)
Not since 1974 have DR Congo – then known as Zaire – qualified for a World Cup.
Forty-eight years later, they sit one two-legged tie away, and Chancel Mbemba is a significant reason why.
A rock in defence, Mbemba has collected 63 caps since making his international debut 10 years ago, while most recently becoming a pillar for Porto in the Primeira Liga.
Mbemba’s presence as part of a back four or in defensive midfield will be key come kick-off against Morocco, which they recently held to a 1-1 draw in October 2020.
6. Mohamed Salah (Egypt)
The pain of losing the Africa Cup of Nations final hasn’t yet left Mohamed Salah but, thankfully, he’ll have the chance to make amends when Egypt face Senegal.
Salah never got the chance to take a spot-kick in Cameroon and the Liverpool star will hope to force an entirely different outcome in their much-anticipated rematch.
The 29-year-old has been at his scintillating best this season, backing up his two goals for Egypt with a further 27 and 10 assists in 34 club appearances.
It’s the kind of form not many can match, and the Egyptian king will have his fingers crossed a certain Liverpool teammate isn’t one of them.
7. Andre Ayew (Ghana)
One-half of the famous Ayew brothers, Andre hopes to carry his goal-scoring form across from club level when Ghana face Nigeria.
The 32-year-old has been irresistible for Al Sadd, having found the back of the net 16 times in 20 Qatar Stars League appearances this season.
Ayew has long been a giant of Ghanaian football – as his brother, Jordan – and still harbours hopes of playing in a third World Cup after missing out in 2018.
With over 100 caps to his name, the former Marseille and Swansea star is no stranger to the big occasion, and Nigeria might be the biggest in quite some time.
8. Yves Bissouma (Mali)
Yves Bissouma’s Cup of Nations call-up marked the end of a three-year exile from international football, and the defensive midfielder quickly reminded everyone what they’d missed.
With the 25-year-old commanding midfield, Mali progressed into the knockout stages for only the second time since 2013.
Bissouma’s play only enhanced his reputation among suitors, with several said to be preparing offers for the Brighton and Hove Albion star.
Another impressive international display could turn more heads his way, and Tunisia will soon offer him two chances to do so.
9. Achraf Hakimi (Morocco)
One of world football’s premier full-backs, Achraf Hakimi’s career has gone from strength to strength since rising through the ranks at Real Madrid’s youth academy.
Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, and Paris Saint-Germain have all felt the first-hand benefits of Hakimi’s play – as have Morocco, the nation he first represented in 2016.
Though just 23 years of age, the rapid defender has amassed almost 50 caps and was most recently named in the Cup of Nations’ team of the tournament.
Hakimi produced a string of outstanding performances en route to the quarter-final, and the Atlas Lions will no doubt lean heavily on him against DR Congo.
10. Wahbi Khazri (Tunisia)
Wahbi Khazri got his first taste of World Cup football in 2018, and the Saint-Etienne star has made it his mission to get back there once more.
To do so, he’ll have to go through Mali, a nation Tunisia most recently encountered to no avail at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Limiting Khazri was Mali’s mission that day, and it will be again in the forthcoming tie, with the skilful attacker’s 24 goals bettered only by Issam Jemaa for Tunisia’s all-time record.
The Tunisian talisman is no stranger to the big occasion, and he’ll soon have two attempts to exact revenge and take his country back to the promised land.
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